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Leuchner guest of honor at WNY Land Conservancy Gala

Sat, Sep 29th 2018 07:00 am
Islander Paul Leuchner, far left, was the guest of honor Sept. 20 at the Western New York Land Conservancy Gala. He was recognized for his efforts in helping preserve what will be called the Martha Gallogly Nature Sanctuary off Whitehaven Road. Joining him were, second from left: Paul's wife Linda Leuchner, Cindy Sharpe, Jim Sharpe, Roger Cook and Councilwoman Beverly Kinney. (Photo by Larry Austin)
Islander Paul Leuchner, far left, was the guest of honor Sept. 20 at the Western New York Land Conservancy Gala. He was recognized for his efforts in helping preserve what will be called the Martha Gallogly Nature Sanctuary off Whitehaven Road. Joining him were, second from left: Paul's wife Linda Leuchner, Cindy Sharpe, Jim Sharpe, Roger Cook and Councilwoman Beverly Kinney. (Photo by Larry Austin)
On Sept. 20, a group of Grand Islanders showed up to recognize fellow Island resident Paul Leuchner, who was the guest of honor at the annual Western New York Land Conservancy Gala held in the Marquis Ballroom of the restored Lafayette Hotel. Leuchner was recognized for spearheading the effort to preserve 144 acres of the forested upper watersheds of Big Six Mile Creek and Little Six Mile Creek on Grand Island. This unique green space is one of the largest forested ecosystems in the Niagara River corridor and is now under the permanent protective stewardship of the Land Conservancy and will become the future home of the Martha Gallogly Nature Sanctuary.
The property encompassed by the new nature sanctuary borders Whitehaven Road and includes all of the mature forest, shrub lands and meadows along Big Six Mile Creek and Little Six Mile Creek just south of the Assumption Cemetery. The mature oak-hickory forest that covers most of the property contains some of the largest white oak trees found on Grand Island. It is home to the spotted salamander a small amphibian officially designated as a species of special concern by New York state. At the edges of the forest, Hawthorne thickets form a nearly impenetrable barrier and within these areas there are pockets of shrub meadows, remnants of an old farm that occupied the site during the early 1900s. The property is laced with wetlands and vernal pools that provide habitat for frogs, turtles and other wildlife species. This vast collection of different plant communities comprising the Martha Gallogly Nature Sanctuary provides nesting and living space for the more than 200 different species of resident and migratory birds that frequent the Niagara River corridor. As an added bonus, the land beneath the forest trees is also a haven for native wild flowers.
The Western New York Land Conservancy wants to share this asset with the general public in a way that they can appreciate nature and learn more about it. One of the primary goals is to add trails and paths to the parcel that will allow visitors to observe key environmental features without disrupting the ecological setting. To achieve this goal, they have brought in a recognized trail consultant to lay out the site for wayfinding and environmental interpretation. All of the trails and paths will be built exclusively for foot traffic. A secondary goal will be to remove invasive trees and shrubs that have become established on the property and replacing them with native flora. Eventually, the nature sanctuary trails will connect with the existing nature trails in Nike Base Park, thereby providing direct access to the new West River Greenway Trail.
Leuchner is well known for his efforts that led to the restoration of Strawberry Island, the enhancement of the East River Marsh in Beaver Island State Park and the establishment of the Wildlife Management area on Motor Island. He first recognized the value of the forests in the upper watersheds of Big and Little Six Mile Creeks during the 1970s. At that time, a company was attempting to harvest the large white oaks on the property so the wood could be used to make furniture. Over the years, he had advanced various proposals for the preservation of this property, but the lack of grant funds placed that goal just out of reach. In 2013, he pitched his plan for protection of this property to members of the Western New York Catholic Diocese Care for Creation Committee and the Western New York Land Conservancy and quickly found new allies for this cause. After several field trips to the site, the Western New York Land Conservancy agreed to take on this project. Negotiations continued with the diocese and just a short time ago the Land Conservancy closed on the sale of the property, purchasing it for the sum of $269,000. Additional funds for trail construction, habitat enhancement and maintenance were provided by the Gallogly Family Foundation.
At 145 acres, this oak and hickory forest is one of the largest, undeveloped, privately owned properties left on Grand Island, and Grand Island has some of the largest remaining forests in the entire Niagara River watershed.
Over the last 18 months, the Land Conservancy raised $804,000 to purchase the property, manage the land long-term, restore wildlife habitat, and create a new trail system
Funding for the project was contributed by the Niagara River Greenway Ecological Standing Committee, the Gallogly Family Foundation, and the Land Trust Alliance's Conservation Partnership Program through the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, as well as individual donors.
The Land Conservancy purchased the land from Catholic Cemeteries of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, who own Assumption Cemetery located in the middle of the sanctuary.
"It is important that those interred in the cemetery always have a tranquil setting for their final resting place," said Carmen Colao, director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Buffalo. "We are grateful to the Land Conservancy for securing this vast and inspiring forest, which will always surround this sacred place."
The Town of Grand Island has a very active Conservation Advisory Board and has been supportive of conservation efforts. "On Grand Island, our most valuable resources are our unique forests, wetlands, and bodies of water," said Town Supervisor Nate McMurray. "By working with the Western New York Land Conservancy, we are able to protect these resources so they will stay green for generations to come."
While the sanctuary is not yet open to the public, the Land Conservancy hopes to begin trail work next spring, which may take a year or two to complete. Once complete, the sanctuary will be opened for people of all ages to enjoy year-round outdoor recreation like hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. Residents and visitors will be able to take a peaceful walk on nature trails, view colorful songbirds during migration, and witness the frenzy of salamanders and frogs as they emerge each spring. All of this will be available less than a mile from the new Western New York Welcome Center.
"Spending time in nature has a profound impact on people's lives," said Land Conservancy Executive Director Nancy Smith. "While we love to protect remarkable places like the Margery Gallogly Nature Sanctuary because of their ecological importance, we also recognize how important it is to share these places with others. I am eager to get the trail system in place, so children and families can enjoy the countless benefits of time spent outdoors."
The Western New York Land Conservancy is a regional, not-for-profit land trust that permanently protects land with significant conservation value in Western New York for current and future generations. The Land Conservancy is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission and is one of more than 1,000 land trusts nationwide, including 90 in New York state. Land trusts have protected 56 million acres of land.

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